On 1st June 2014, my former colleague and Business Guardian Editor, Anthony Wilson, made a call for a ‘national debate’ on the proposed disposal of CLICO’s traditional portfolio of insurance business. This is the first of my responses.
We are now entering the chaotic endgame of this epic CL Financial bailout fiasco. Some of the recent official statements are –
- CL Financial’s other assets, including majority shareholdings in Republic Bank Limited and Methanol Holdings to be sold;
- Full repayment of Public Money advanced in this bailout is expected.
- CLICO’s traditional insurance policy portfolio is being professionally valued prior to its intended disposal;
- Atrius Ltd., set up in 2013 as an alternative vehicle for CLICO’s continuing business, is to be effectively abandoned;
- All of CLICO’s sales agents are to be terminated by the end of this month, June 2014;
The recent statements of both the Minister of Finance, Larry Howai, and the Governor of the Central Bank, Jwala Rambarran, could give the public an impression that this financial disaster has now been mostly resolved and we are on some kind of smooth track to a complete solution.
I remain sceptical as to the extent to which these problems have been resolved. The complete lack of detailed information, despite many requests by myself and others, leaves one to wonder just what is the basis for these serious decisions.
So, why am I saying this?
The money being used in the CL Financial bailout is ‘Public Money’, which we sometimes call tax-payers’ dollars. The leading learning from which we have to draw serious lessons is Lord Sharman’s 2001 Report to the British Parliament ‘Holding to Account‘, which was a thorough examination of the definition, role and need for control of ‘Public Money’. In the Public Procurement campaign we expanded on Sharman’s definition of ‘Public Money’ so as to capture the full range of possibilities, but we have accepted his key finding as to the requirement that ‘Public Money’ is to be managed to a higher standard of Accountability and transparency than Private Money – see 2.23 on pg 15.
The contemporary, best-practice position in respect of the management of and accountability for Public Money being that the private sector rules are the bare minimum.
CL Financial Ltd. is a holding company for the Duprey empire, comprising major companies such as Republic Bank Ltd.; the Angostura Group; Methanol Holdings Trinidad Ltd; Home Construction Group of Companies; British-American Insurance Company Ltd; Lascelles-Mercado Ltd. (the Jamaican owners of Appleton and Wray & Nephew rums).
The last audited accounts for the CL Financial group were published on 18 November 2008, for the financial year ending 31 December 2007. The function of consolidated audited accounts is to give investors and management the necessary information with which to make decisions as to the future of the company.
Since 2009 I have been making requests under the Freedom of Information Act for these items of information –
- Audited Accounts for the CL Financial group, or the basis of the various statements by successive Ministers of Finance;
- Senate Briefing – details of the high-level briefing given to Independent Senators in September 2011 prior to the vote on the two new laws – one to allow the State to borrow an additional $10.7 Billion to settle the bailout and the Act to shield the Central Bank from the supervision of the Courts;
- Payments – details of the payments to the various claimants under the terms of the bailout, in particular EFPA-holders;
- Integrity Commission – confirmation of whether the Minister of Finance was requiring the CL Financial Directors to file declarations as required by law.
I have effectively withdrawn the last of those requests and am now in litigation against the Minister of Finance & the Economy for the first three items. The State has resisted those claims and the litigation continues. I have continued my quest on the compliance of CL Financial’s Directors with the Integrity in Public Life Act with the Integrity Commission, despite the serial delays and unresponsiveness which have beset those requests.
The question before us now is, “How can the State and our government be making these serious, long-term decisions in the absence of the basic information?” Put another way, “How can we continue to allow these serious decisions to be made in our name on our behalf and supposedly, for our benefit, while the State continues to withhold the basic information?”
We have now entered the unimaginable territory of unexamined State power being exercised on an unprecedented scale in the pursuit of an unknown agenda.
This is the big picture and it is an ugly one.
Try to imagine the Board of a major, privately-owned, holding company proposing to its Shareholders that its major assets be disposed-of without the basic information, such as audited accounts or details of meetings with major stakeholders. Such an action would be seen as a gross violation of elementary norms of corporate governance and quite likely be rejected with swift, high-level dismissals. Yet, here we have our government (the Board of Directors) proposing these actions while refusing the reasonable requests of shareholders (citizens such as myself and others) for the rationale for and basic information underlying this process.
The fundamental, best-practice principle that Public Money is to be managed to and accounted for to a higher standard than Private Money has seemingly been rejected. Rejected by the Minister of Finance & the Economy and the Governor of the Central Bank.
That is the scale of this ‘thing without a name’. I tell you.
We, the citizens and taxpayers of this Republic, are being told that this unprecedented expenditure of Public Money of $25 Billion is to be resolved by a questionable process. The long-time saying is buzzing through my head – ‘What eh meet yuh, eh pass yuh‘.
Some points to remember in thinking about this issue –
- CL Financial Shareholders’ Agreement expires at the end of June 2014;
- Asset Sales have continued with the unadvertised sales of Valpark and Atlantic Plazas;
- No Interest was charged on the huge sums of Public Money spent to settle the indebtedness of the CL Financial group. The Board of Inland Revenue is a Division of the Ministry of Finance & the Economy and annual interest of 20% is charged to taxpayers who are late in their payments.
- ‘Fit & Proper’ regulations have never been applied to this CL Financial collapse, as mandated by Central Bank’s regulations, despite my continuing calls. One has to wonder if the stage is being set for a return of Lawrence Duprey & his cohorts to our country’s high-level corporate lifestyle.
On 28 May 2014, the Business Express ‘Opinion‘ was entitled ‘Bringing closure to the CLICO debacle‘ and one of the statements in that editorial was stunning –
“…Thus far, Rambarran and Finance Minister Larry Howai have been forthcoming in their handling of the CLICO issue…”
I could not agree less. The taxpayers and citizens of Trinidad & Tobago are being abused in this entire process.